Letter to Editor: Is it time for a Civil Defence Force?
Health / Wed 13th Oct 2021 at 07:53am
THE Parliamentary joint Science & Technology and Health & Social Care Committees’ 150 page report examining the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic was published today (12 October) and makes useful reading given its 38 recommendations.
Sadly, the mainstream media have turned a report designed to learn lessons for the future into an butt-kicking contest. This morning on Sky News, Kay Burley asked Conservative Cabinet Minister Steve Barclay 11 times if he would apologize for the Government’s failure to act more swiftly. Likewise, she cornered a Labour spokesman to apologize.
One area of the report that could do with close scrutiny is on page 25 relating to the role of the Armed Forces and civilian volunteers. Sir Simon Stevens, then Chief Executive Officer of NHS England (now Lord Stevens of Birmingham), is quoted in the report as saying:
“[The Armed Forces] have played a fantastic role alongside our NHS staff […] we have selectively been able to benefit from some of the logistics expertise of the armed forces […] At the moment, we have about 1,800 people from the armed forces working alongside [NHS staff].”
Likewise, civilian volunteers who answered the NHS initial call for help were praised. Sir Simon Stevens highlighted the role of volunteers supporting the roll-out of covid-19 vaccines and supporting NHS community care during the pandemic:
“Fortunately, not just friends and neighbours but volunteers, and the role of local authorities through the Local Resilience Forums, have played a big part in helping people at home.”
However, the administrative burden of vetting the volunteers was raised by Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy
at Carers UK, as she stated:
“Of course things have to work quite quickly and there needs to be a proportionate response, making sure that the people we have operating are bona fide, but at the same time making sure that we get those volunteers out quite quickly.”
On the question of deploying volunteers the report had this recommendation on page 31:
‘The Government and the NHS should consider establishing a volunteer reserve database so that volunteers who have had appropriate checks can be rapidly called up and deployed in an emergency rather than needing to begin from scratch.’
I would suggest that a better way forward would be to establish a national Civil Defence Force that is based on similar lines to the old Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve. Volunteers would meet weekly to be trained in first aid, forest fire containment, crowd control, flood relief work, traffic management and vaccine support. Added to this could be support in the event of major terrorist incident.
This is not a new idea as it has existed before. The Civil Defence Corps (CDC) was a civilian volunteer organisation established in Great Britain in 1949 to mobilise and take local control of an affected area following a major national emergency, mainly envisaged as being a Cold War nuclear attack. By March 1956, the CDC had 330,000 volunteers. It was disbanded in Great Britain in 1968.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the need to invest in the NHS, the Armed Forces and a civilian volunteer force. Now the Government needs to act divisively.
16 Holmes Meadow,
Looks a great idea. Might be something young adults would step up to as well. The good in young people is often overlooked.
I agree this is a great idea, however having worked on several mod bases you see how many staff are present and working isolated away from the country. Surely more army/air force could integrate into hybrid civil roles too. At the end of the day they're being paid by government?!